The eclectic list rebuffed both Philip Roth and a Revolutionary biography

By Matthew Flamm
October 25, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
John Adams Illustration by John Cuneo

The National Book Award finalists have been announced — so let the second-guessing begin. ”It’s the weirdest NBA list I’ve ever seen,” snipes a high-ranking publishing executive. ”I’ve hardly heard of any of these people.” A colleague at another house concurs — ”It once again proves that the [NBA juries] have a unique ability to pick the most obscure candidates on the planet” — and notes the fiction selection contains only one expected choice, Jonathan Franzen’s ”The Corrections,” but no Philip Roth, Anne Tyler, or Amy Tan. (The other picks: ”Among the Missing,” a story collection by Dan Chaon, and three novels — Jennifer Egan’s ”Look at Me,” Louise Erdrich’s ”The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse,” and Susan Straight’s ”Highwire Moon.”)

The nonfiction choices — David James Duncan’s ”My Story as Told by Water,” Nina Bernstein’s ”The Lost Children of Wilder,” Jan T. Gross’ ”Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” Marie Arana’s ”American Chica,” and Andrew Solomon’s ”The Noonday Demon” — drew similar comments. Says Margaret Maupin, buyer for the Tattered Cover, a bookstore in Denver, ”Just like everyone else, I was a little amazed that David McCullough [author of best-selling ”John Adams”] was not nominated.” For his part, novelist Colin Harrison, chair of the fiction panel, says, ”Each book has enormous beauty and merit. We feel very good about this list.” The awards will be presented Nov. 14 in New York.

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